Tundra snow and polar ice can each be naturally restored without fossil fuel, and without adversely affecting the local environment.
The best design is a solution that inherently avoids problems. The best geoengineering design must inherently restore the earth’s natural habitat and not cause environmental problems.
Invention number one for restoring the Arctic’s natural winter albedo is an automated, wind powered snowmaking machine, placed on a section of Arctic tundra or on an ice sheet. The device melts nearby water in near-freezing temperatures, pumps the water well into the air and sprays out relatively tiny droplets in windy weather for longer-range dispersion of snowflakes.
The albedo of Greenland's ice sheet has changed because soot particles have accumulated in the melting process, and because a surface of fresh snow reflects sunlight into space better than an ice rime caused by recent melting. The albedo needs to be restored with fresh snow.
Invention number two is a thermal transfer device which floats in the ocean and which gets caught up in the pack ice in winter. The supply and return tubes need to be filled with an enhanced percentage of salt brine and/or ethanol, substances which won't pollute if they leak out. The device pulls heat out of the upper ocean and dumps it into the Arctic winter.
We'll want to deploy millions of mass-produced, affordable devices to ecologically geoengineer the entire Arctic temperature and defuse the world's methane bomb, saving much of the world's current food supply.
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
1. When the local temperature drops below freezing and when the wind is blowing, the machine pumps water up a tall tube and sprays it out the top. Strong Arctic winds carry the snowflakes quite a distance. This action coats that section of the tundra with reflective snow early in the Arctic fall and late in the Arctic spring, which changes that section of tundra’s albedo. More light is reflected back into space. As a beneficial side effect, the tundra’s natural lichen population has water on which it can survive. Lately the tundra has been getting bone dry and has been catching fire, which releases carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost just below the tundra’s surface.
It’s preferable that the snow be released from a good height to maximize coverage from each snowmaker. A blinking aviation light may be needed on top. It’s preferable that the snowmakers be almost self-installing, possibly dropped onto the tundra by helicopter. The wind turbine blades need to be slow enough to not affect the local bird population. When the system’s pool of water underneath the device is frozen and no snow can be made, the system needs to shut down.
The same autonomous device could restore New England’s natural albedo in early winter and in early spring, with a similar beneficial effect on local and on global climate. Snow on a field in the spring is known as “farmer’s gold”. The snowmaker could also be deployed wherever seasonal snow was commonplace 50 years ago.
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2. From water level to 100 feet down, a supply tube and a return tube circulate a mixture of ocean water plus added sea salt and/or ethanol as antifreeze. From 1 to 100 feet down, fins or rods drifting in the ocean current collect heat and transfer it to the brine inside the tube system. Moving brine transports the heat to fins projecting above the water. We may get natural movement, as heat will rise and cold will sink, but we may also want to enhance the natural brine movement with a wind-driven circulator pump. We may want a closed system under a slight induced vacuum where the brine rises perhaps two or three feet above the ocean’s level at the top of its loop, in order to directly contact the heat fins at the top of the device. The field of heat-losing pipes and heat fins is best kept above the ice level.
Who will take these actions?
Arctic regions contain a total of 1400 gigatons of methane and methane clathrates. If, in a positive feedback loop, half of this methane were to be released, and reasonably assuming that methane is 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the methane would add the greenhouse equivalent of about 1000 parts per million of CO2 to the atmosphere. The climate effect of this release on the earth's surviving people would be vast. Apparently we humans don't have to do anything further to start this release, as it's already building on itself.
In the light of the exponential growth curve of current Arctic methane emissions, added to a known pattern of historical jumps in world temperature in geologic time, the "Business as usual" emissions statistics claimed by this contest in its "impact" section need to be challenged.
We humans will find our wallet, it being the moral equivalent of war to stop this monster. Also, we humans will find our basic research and product development money to get this particular project off the ground quickly enough. Progressive governments and early adaptor foundations and universities will come around first.
Where will these actions be taken?
Initial product design experiments can be done in local ponds and in freezers.
Deployment takes place in the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, the tundra of Alaska, Canada and Russia, much of the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere in winter, some of the Southern Hemisphere in austral winter, and at high elevations.
High altitude glaciers need to be protected.
What are other key benefits?
This action would lead to the prevention of an enormous methane release from the methane clathrate formations on the Arctic Ocean’s continental shelves.
These heat transfer devices are designed to maintain the naturally anaerobic environment under the Arctic Ocean’s pack ice, preserving the local marine ecology.
A few floating devices may chill the water around a glacial flow, diminishing the damage being done to the glacier underwater. One million or more of these devices would pull sufficient heat out of the Arctic Ocean that its pack ice would re-grow to its normal 14-foot multiyear thickness naturally. At this point much of the solar heat now being absorbed in the Arctic Ocean would be reflected back into space by the ice pack.
This device pulls latent heat out of the upper ocean all winter long and deposits it in the Arctic winter air, from where the heat radiates out into space. The natural heat exchange would shut down in the heat of summer, because heat doesn’t sink.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Product development can be done - it won’t be all that hard. After product development and ramping up to mass production, the estimated cost of implementing this proposal would be in the ballpark of $1 billion per year. Implementing the snow and ice restoration option would be relatively inexpensive compared to the eventual flooding and abandonment of the MIT main campus on the Charles River, also the abandonment of Wall Street, the National Mall in Washington, DC, most of Florida and several sovereign nations.
I'd like to see heat transfer machines mass-produced in the $1000 range, dropped off of ships in September and picked up and refurbished two to five years later as they float into navigable waters. Alternatively, the machines could sink on a self-destruct command. Snowmaking machines should be deployed on almost any square mile where snow naturally occurs in winter, including in New England and connected to town water, except people don't want excess snow dumped on their roads.
If individual machines break down or are for some reason mauled by inquisitive polar bears, they still don’t particularly disturb the local ecology.
We could be testing prototype machines in local freshwater ponds and on fields in winter for perhaps 3 years. Then we would deploy small-scale experiments such as saving small mountain glaciers and cooling the water near ice rivers. Then we would ramp up. An enlightened planet would be cooling the Arctic within 15 years, but a stalwart business-as-usual political denial of any problem could add another decade to full deployment.
We would be artificially cooling the planet for at least 100 years while we sequestered gigatons of carbon dioxide.
My Boulder, Colorado proposal is for an organizational structure that can develop these inventions.